Citizenship to the country is a fundamental right of the residents who call the country their home. Hence, denial of citizenship right is an extreme failure of the state. Apart from denial of citizenship to certain people currently living in Pakistan, in other cases, those living outside the territory of Pakistan and want to be repatriated are abstained from the citizenship rights. This causes a predicament in both international community and at home, as those who associate with Pakistan are denied the rights that they deserve. There needs to be more awareness in Pakistan about those who are denied citizenship, especially ‘stranded’ refugees. Pressure should be exerted through lobbying to give these refugees a legal status in Pakistan so that they do not remain stranded in terms of accessing health care and education, or to give them ID cards and passports so they do not remain immobile within the country they ascribe to.
A prime example is that of stranded Biharis in Bangladesh. It is important to know that during 1971, these Biharis aided the Western Pakistani Army to retain East Pakistan. However, with Indian Army’s intervention, West Pakistan was defeated and East Pakistan won independence and declared Bangladesh. However, this left an ordeal for the Biharis who supported West Pakistan. The Biharis were confined by the Bangladesh state and they were deprived of the citizenship rights and kept in refugee camps from where they were to be sent back to Pakistan. However this never occurred. Out of an approximated 300,000 Biharis, only one third of them were repatriated back to Pakistan, the rest of them still languishing in the camps of Bangladesh, deprived of their basic rights. Those repatriated to Pakistan are facing no less ordeal. According to the Pakistan Citizenship Act,
“any person who, at any time before the sixteenth day of December 1971, was a citizen of Pakistan domiciled in the territories which before the said day constituted the province of East Pakistan and who being under the protection of Pakistan passport, was on that day, or is, residing in any country beyond those territories shall not be deemed to be a citizen of Pakistan unless, upon an application made by him to the Federal Government in this behalf the Federal Government has granted him a certificate that at the date of the certificate he is a citizen of Pakistan.”
This means that the repatriated Biharis are still denied their citizenship rights, despite their allegiance with West Pakistan at the time of war. This gruesome injustice stands in contradiction with The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
With now nothing to look forward to, these refugees call upon the recognition of Pakistan’s past mistakes and upon the government’s responsibility for these stranded Biharis in Bangladesh where they have been deprived of their rights for the last 43 years, and also in Pakistan where they are still languishing in refugee camps without basic facilities. It is high time that some heed is paid to their suffering and to improve their status to that of any other citizen of Pakistan.
Currently, Pakistan deliberately remains oblivious of the plight of Biharis who remain stranded in Pakistan and Bangladesh, nor does it show any concern about their misery. There are a few international agencies that are raising awareness about the statelessness of these refugees, however, very little is being done here in Pakistan by the civil society. There needs to be far-reaching awareness about their plight to make the government pay heed to this monstrous neglect.
Not much is known to the public about the matter. A proper communication portal needs to be set up to give these refugees a chance to be heard, as well as civic education to make people aware of how the denial of citizenship deprives people of their rights and what responsibility the state is neglecting. There are many ways to raise this issue with the help of civil society organizations that can lobby for issue and bring it forward to the government of Pakistan to call for the citizenship rights that these refugees have been crying for.
They are a small language minority and are mainly set up in the port of Karachi. The resistance to their acceptance can be traced back to several reasons. First, their refugee status can grant for aid for their camps. Second, it is the army that places a hindrance to their assimilation into the society. Third is the inward racial discrimination that many hold against Biharis. As a result, they face bigger challenges in their day to day efforts of getting meals and seeking education. Children remain mainly deprived of normal childhood as they have to face many hardships in sustaining themselves. They retort to beggary and other transgression to help themselves and their families instead of going to school like other children. This stands in stark contradiction to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
These Biharis remain devoid of political recognition and cannot vote. Their lack of political representation means that their issues can hardly be redressed, they remain voiceless and public sentiment cannot be molded in their favor. Nor are they able to seek proper legal services to fight for their cause as they are not taken seriously.
Remaining without dignity in their lives sets them in an ordeal no one can comprehend. They should enjoy their right to live their lives with respect and as full citizens of Pakistan. Not only that, the Pakistani state should also pay heed to those remaining Biharis in Bangladesh, who call themselves Pakistani, to repatriate them back to their homeland to give them the dignity of their lives that they spent with hardship and degradation.
There are many other stateless people living in Pakistan who deserve some recognition and integration. For example, the Afghan nationals who have taken refuge in Pakistan and have been living here for generations. It is time that they too are given dignity and provided with the same rights as any Pakistani citizen.
This is an important issue as it also caters directly to the economic performance of Pakistan. Withholding or suppressing any segment of the Pakistani society can have detrimental effects on the overall well-being of Pakistan. Moreover, awareness about the citizenship rights plays a vital role to understand the political scenario of Pakistan and the internal misbalance the society holds, which is causing international shame of how the state is mistreating its citizens and refugees. The issue of statelessness needs to be known widespread among the citizens of Pakistan as an issue that certain segments of the population face due to the state’s neglect.